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Letdown

by

Mark Maynard

 

 
     
   

 

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1.


MICHAEL HENRY GALEN WAS BORN AUGUST 17TH.  HE WEIGHED SIX POUNDS, FOUR OUNCES.  HE WAS 19 INCHES LONG.

Michael Henry Galen died in his sleep sometime during the night of September 23rd. Mary found him lying quietly in his crib. She’d forever be ashamed to remember how glad she was for his silence that morning. He’d been fussing through the night and she fed and rocked the red-faced boy for hours until the delirium of exhaustion took hold.


When she turned on the little silver airplane lamp, his tiny face and balled fists were periwinkle. His baby features were a portrait of peaceful sleep, but the chest of his sleeper did not rise and fall with the rapid breathing she’d become accustomed to.

2.


It was to be her first time out of the house since she’d come back from the hospital to a nursery full of useless receiving blankets and layettes, a crib, and a diaper pail. Her mother had been pushing her to come to church and find peace. Mary and Wayne weren’t practicing Catholics but for some reason, when she woke up this morning, the idea of being with a large group of people who could not gather around and offer condolences to her seemed comforting.

Wayne would stay home and dismantle the nursery, something that needed doing before they sold the house. They couldn’t bear strangers walking through Michael’s room. Both imagined couples celebrating a mausoleum disguised as a nursery.

3.


Mary snuck down to the unfinished basement and pulled the electric breast pump from its hiding place behind a pile of cardboard boxes. She hadn’t been able to let go of her body’s last tangible maternal process, even as she felt that she was betraying Wayne. The trumpet-shaped pump buzzed and tugged at her and she cried as her ducts were emptied. She managed about four ounces from each side.

Mary placed the plastic bag of her warm, parchment-colored nourishment in the deep freezer under large bags of forgotten, frozen vegetables. There were already rows of other frozen milkings hidden away in the lower racks under Wayne’s butcher-wrapped venison from his fall hunt.


4.

St. Elizabeth’s Catholic Church was supposed to give her peace, a sense of sanctuary and community. The parishioners were relieved to be able to have the decency to give her space and not mention the tragedy.

During the homily, just as she was finding consolation in Father del Rios’ commentary on Mark 10:13, an infant began crying in the back vestibule. Its mother spirited it away into the back of the church, into a side aisle or the crying room, but it was too late.

Mary felt a twinge deep in her belly and then a tingle at both her breasts. The cry had unleashed her biological yearning to sustain her child, now dead for over a week. She felt a prickle and then wetness, a slow trickle at first; the pearly liquid then began to soak into her padded bra and darkened her white blouse. She tried to cover herself with both forearms. By the time she reached the side door of the church, it was difficult to tell whether the damp patches on her blouse were soaked through from milk within or briny tears that fell in rivulets on her breasts, still ignorantly swollen for her dead motherhood.


Mary paused at the top of the steps that led down to the parking lot. Her mother caught up to her and grasped her daughter’s arm just below the elbow, silently offering to support her descent. It had begun to snow when they had entered the church, and the parking lot and all the cars were coated three inches deep. Large asymmetrical flakes were falling.


The cold began to harden the milk that had stained the front of her blouse, and Mary wished she had brought a coat, not for warmth, but to disappear into as she and her mother made the long walk to the car. She could still hear the baby crying, if only in her memory, and the infant in the church and her own Michael began wailing in unison, a chorus of shrieking voices that tugged at her maternity and again sent milk flowing from her.


When they reached the car, her mother opened the passenger door and guided Mary to the seat. The older woman opened the driver door to put the keys in the ignition and turn on the heater and defroster and then headed out into the storm. The sound of the children crying blended with the harsh blade of the plastic scraper knifing ice from the windshield of her mother’s car.

     

Mark Maynard

Mark Maynard lives in Reno, NV with his wife Pam, and sons Jake and Tyler. His MFA in Creative Writing is from Antioch University Los Angeles. He teaches English and fiction at Truckee Meadows Community College and is the fiction editor of The Meadow literary journal. His stories have appeared in Shelf Life, The Duck and Herring Co., and, most recently, he was a runner up in the Torrey House Press Winter Fiction Contest. Mark is an alumnus of The Squaw Valley Community of Writers, which is not far from his hometown of Incline Village.

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